#TECH: Making cities smart

By Nur Zarina Othman – June 14, 2021 @ 1:15pm

Authorities will be able to track work orders for  faulty street lighting.
Authorities will be able to track work orders for faulty street lighting.

A smart city requires ‘teamwork’ between network, hardware and people

ONE of the key ingredients in developing a smart city is IoT or the Internet of Things, which is a system of interrelated computing devices that collect and share data.

Locally, there is one company, Vectolabs LLC, that is working on turning municipalities like Putrajaya into smart cities with IoT technology.MORE NEWS

Co-founded by Faizal Ali when he was in the United States, Vectolabs aims to build a strong relationship between people-people, people-things and things-things to create a giant network of connected “things”, which is the key component in building a smart city.

The electrical engineering graduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York said Vectolabs was conceived to patent a method to detect deceleration using an accelerometer, which was developed into Vololights — a revolutionary motorcycle safety device that was launched on Kickstarter and available on thousands of motorcycles, snow ploughs and electric trucks in the US and Canada.

After spending years in the US studying and working in a few companies, including Teal Electronics, Tesla, Boeing and Flight Safety International, Faizal returned to Malaysia in 2016 to share his passion.

He then formed a start-up, funded by Malaysian Technology Development Corporation, called Vectolabs Technologies that focuses on IoT solutions for smart city applications and is based in Cyberjaya.

BUILDING SMART CITIES

According to Faizal, a smart city is not just about connecting “things”.

“It is an IoT ecosystem that consists of web-enabled smart devices that act as a tool for cities to collect real-time information on all kinds of things, including traffic, air and water quality,” he said.

The data will then be sent to an IoT gateway, where it will be analysed; reconciling technological innovation with the economic, social and ecological challenges together. With this information, the authorities will be able to understand the trends and patterns, and act immediately to solve nearly any problem.

“So, before any IoT can deliver what it is made to do, a reliable system must be in place to connect these devices together — a network system and an infrastructure for all the data collected from these devices to come together,” explained Faizal.

ADDRESSING PROBLEMS

Many of the smart city deployments in the country are single-focused to solve one operational pain point at a time. Without a fully integrated smart city infrastructure for a central monitoring of multiple services, there will always be hesitance in a full-blown deployment because currently, results are collected in siloed networks, software platforms and data.

“The unavailability of a municipal-operated IoT network is a major barrier to building smart cities because every pilot project requires its own network infrastructure without any interoperability that drives up costs.

“If I own a passenger transport vehicle and I have to build a bridge on my own to transport passengers to an island, why would I share my bridge (once it is completed) with other companies that would benefit from what I have built?

“I bear the cost and went through hardships just to get my passengers across. Now, why would I want to let anyone through?

“The same goes for smart city infrastructure. If I, as a light maker, have to develop the infrastructure, why would I let the bin maker, the water company and others ride on it? I might as well build these myself and use them. But I don’t have the expertise, which then leads to deployment issues,” said Faizal.

To solve this issue, Vectolabs leverages its expertise in LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) connectivity, mainly LoRaWAN and NB-IoT.

LoRa uses a wireless modulation method to create long-range communication links with low power consumption, which makes it ideal for transmitting sensor data from IoT devices. A single gateway is able to cover a two-to-five kilometre radius in urban settings, and Vectolabs’ first project is with Perbadanan Putrajaya (PPj).

“We hope Putrajaya can serve as a model for other cities to emulate, which includes having full ownership and control of the infrastructure, devices and data,” said Faizal.

SOLUTIONS FOR PUTRAJAYA

Vectolabs’ first IoT product for the Putrajaya smart city project is the deployment of Vectolights smart streetlight solution.

The smart street lighting system will be implemented in Presint 15 and is the first of its kind in Putrajaya.

The system is designed to manage all types of street lighting assets, including feeder pillars and all types of lights — from the smart-ready LEDs to the conventional high-pressure sodium luminaires. This will help PPj to resolve faulty street lighting proactively with the automated notification system, and quickly using the information provided, such as possible faulty components, exact location of the luminaire, and the feeder pillar, circuit and phase that the lighting device is connected to.

In addition, PPj will also be able to track work orders for the faulty street lighting to ensure high quality service to its community.

The solution doesn’t just address issues like energy consumption or/and identifying lighting conditions, but also positioning issues in high-density areas by providing an alternative location service to GPS using smart streetlights as markers.

The same solution has been deployed at several locations in Malaysia through the company’s partners, namely Primelux Energy, ITRAMAS and TMOne.